Occ health: Pregnancy and the workplace



Certain operational duties can not be performed by female workers. They should not perform hard manual labour after 20 weeks of pregnancy. They then become at risk of developing abruptio placentae, premature labour and musculoskeletal problems. The musculoskeletal problems can in part be attributed to the fact that the pregnant female excretes elastin later in her pregnancy. Elastin causes her ligaments to become more flexible and pliable in order for the baby to breach the ligaments of the pelvis during delivery. Elastin has the side-effects that the pregnant female is more prone to back pain and joint dislocations

There are multiple positions in a municipality that have have high operational requirements such as emergency and ambulance personnel, metro police officers and fire personnel. Such pregnant employees wil not be able to perform “operational work” after 20 weeks gestation. They must be evaluated and if fit, be classifed as fit for “alternative work”. Alternative work can include administrative or sedentary work


Pregnant employees qualify for maternity leave. The maternity leave is determined by subtracting one month from the expected date of delivery (EDD) as determined by the employee’s obstetrician. The obstetrician determines the date of delivery via determination of the uterus fundus height, date of the last normal menstruation and sonar evaluation. One formula that is used for maternity leave calculation is giving one month paid leave prior to delivery and 2 months paid leave post-delivery. The 2 months post-delivery can be extended to 3 months but the last month will be unpaid leave. If the baby is unexpectedly born prematurely and no maternity leave was utilised prior to delivery the mother would qualify for 3 months paid leave post-delivery

Pregnant employees sometimes request maternity leave for miscarriages. This is not maternity leave and must go through as sick leave. Pregnant employees that develop pregnancy-related complications such as pre-eclampsia, eclampsia and hypertension in pregnancy, to mention but a few conditions, during their first 8 months of pregnancy must utilise sick leave and not maternity leave. The specific goal of maternity leave is to protect the mother during the last month prior to delivery and to give some time for mother-child bonding to take place after delivery of the baby. The father, depending on workplace policy, may qualify for 5 days paternity leave post-delivery


There are different groups of chemicals that can affect the unborn child and the pregnant employee. The first group of chemicals are the carcinogens. They stimulate the development of cancer. The second group is the mutagens. They permanently damage the DNA of the mother or the unborn child. An mutagen-exposed mother is at a higher risk of giving birth to babies with birth defects. The next chemically harmful group is inductors of pregnancy or abortions. They stimulate or activate the pregnant female to go into premature labour. The last chemically harmful group is chemical substances that enter the blood stream of the mother and are directly toxic to the mother and the unborn child

It is crucial that occupational health practitioners are aware of which chemicals are being used in their organisation so that risk assessments can be performed and the risk managed accordingly. The material data safety sheets (MDSS) supplies information on the dangers of chemicals